Milliken Leadership Award

The Milliken Leadership Award recognizes community leaders who embody the legacy of Helen and Governor William Milliken and the belief that a clean, healthy environment is necessary for a prosperous economy.

The milliken legacy

Keith Schneider, the founder of Groundwork’s predecessor organization, the Michigan Land Use Institute, was a veteran environmental journalist who was well familiar with the Milliken environmental legacy and way of governing, and he forged the governor’s principles into our core organizational values. Principles like how a healthy environment is essential to a strong economy. How strategically building broad coalitions can achieve results. How embracing civility and respect at all times is both effective and the right thing to do. How it’s important to bring forward solutions that unify. So, you can imagine how it felt in the early days when we received a handwritten note from the governor praising our work and encouraging us to keep going. Over the years we came to know Governor Milliken personally, which was a great honor. Helen Milliken joined our board and served for a decade. She was visionary, a powerful and eloquent voice always challenging us to reach higher, to push harder. And so it only made sense that our award of highest honor is named the Milliken Leadership Award.

Award Recipients

For over 25 years, we've honored individuals in our community that have exemplified the legacy of Helen and Governor Milliken. Their awards hang on our office walls to remind us that we stand on the shoulders of giants. The text below, recorded from their award plaques, represents the spirit of why each person was selected for this most prestigious award.

Bill Latka • 2019

When you walked in the door 11 years ago, how could we have known that we were meeting a living hero? Who could have guessed that it would be your insane talent and relentless commitment that would catapult and sustain the Line 5 campaign, and that your creative genius would elevate Groundwork across our programs to a much higher level of effectiveness? Well, we sure know that now Bill Latka. We see you brother—your deep integrity and your selfless humility. We see how you inspire others to dig deeper, to reach higher, and how you do all of this with a gentle smile and a heart full of love. We are all so very grateful, for who you are and all that you give. Everyone around you is better off, and while we, of course, share a common concern for the prospects for our planet, there is no doubt that our future is much brighter because of you.

Kim Pontius • 2018

Kim Pontius Groundwork is thrilled to honor Kim Pontius with the 2018 Milliken Leadership award. In so many ways, Kim embodies Groundwork’s mission. He has a huge and inspiring vision for what is possible, informed by research and understanding. He is hard-driving and relentless about achieving public interest goals. He’s practical and strategic and he vigorously promotes the principle that a thriving economy depends on a clean environment. Beyond all that, Kim is a kind, compassionate, dedicated person who adds value and verve to everything he does. Groundwork is lucky to call Kim a trusted friend and partner, and Northwest Michigan is incredibly fortunate to have Kim among its most effective leaders.

Maureen Smyth • 2018

Maureen Smyth It is with deep gratitude the Groundwork honors you for your committed service as chair of the board from 2015 to 2018. With keen intelligence and thoughtful insight buoyed by an enduring passion for the people and places of Michigan, you led our board with a steady hand that made our whole organization stronger and more effective. Thank you Maureen for giving so much of yourself to our shared cause. Your achievements as chair will forever be appreciated by all of us.

Mary Van Valin • 2017

Mary Van Valin Groundwork is thrilled to honor Mary Van Valin with the 2017 Milliken leadership award. Mary arrives at this celebrated moment not by way of a high-level career in politics or business; rather Groundwork recognizes Mary simply for the content of her character, for who she is, and the way she inspires all of us to be better human beings. As an educator for 30 years, Mary supported and encouraged a generation of children to become young leaders and thinkers and dreamers and doers. Mary’s compassion for others, her graceful manner, and her unyielding commitment to do whatever it takes to help the people and the environment have resulted in an astounding track record of achievement in conservation, climate solutions, and community well-being.

Chip Hoagland • 2016

In a decades-old, collaborative movement to grow local agriculture, how does one man emerge to change the future of an entire food system? In two ways: first by understanding that distribution is the fulcrum for growth and, second, by having the courage to conjure up a bold vision for a 21st Century social enterprise company that connects people to good food. Chip Hoagland is that unique leader. With a powerful persistence, an insatiable curiosity, and a kind-hearted, even humble, ability to support others and create real, lasting partnerships, Chip has put Michigan on the map as an innovator in the national movement for healthy, locally grown food.

He has given us an inspiring model of what’s possible when ideas, action, and determination are joined with a commitment to doing the right thing. Al